(Edited 26-6-12: added food and chilenismos)
But I feel like I’ve been here for ages! Nope. Just finished my second day in Chile! Huzzah!
On the plane ride over here I had a lot (a lot) of time to think about how I want to structure my posts. Ideally, they would 1) not be too lengthy, 2) be informative, and 3) be fun to read. So, I’ve decided to begin my entries with quick bullet points about things I’ve done/seen/etc and then go into some detail about them further down. That way you can pick stuff you’re interested in instead of having to read eeveeryythiingg. If this isn’t working out, let me know and I’ll try something else. (Constructive) feedback is always welcome! :)
Okay, so here goes. During days 1 and 2 I’ve:
- moved in with my host family
- bought a cell phone and a metro/micro card
- had my intensive language program (ILP) orientation
- learned why onces are served at 5 o’clock
- explored one of Santiago’s neighborhoods
- done a whole lot of walking
- started planning a trip to northern Chile
- started learning some chilenismos
My Host Family is a couple in their early-/mid-sixties who live in Las Condes, one of Santiago’s many neighborhoods. Monica and Sergio have been hosting students from various programs for about 12 years now, so they’re familiar with the whole process and have been very helpful. Yesterday Monica took me for a walk to the closest metro (subway) station so that I knew where it was. Once there I bought a transit card. Santiago has two major forms of public transportation: the metro and the micro (buses that run within Santiago). Both are used via a transit card which can be reloaded with money. Although public transport is convenient, it is also where most burglaries take place, so we’ve been told to be very attentive and very careful about our belongings. Overall Santiago is a very safe city (a man I met at the Chilean Consulate in S.F. said that it has about 3.3 times the population of Alameda County (he lives in Oakland now), yet has a much much much smaller rate of violent crime), but you have to be aware of your surroundings. This is just common sense, really, and is applicable no matter where you go.
Monica also took me to Jumbo (pronounced “yumbo”), Santiago’s equivalent of Target or Walmart (you can find just about anything there), so that I could buy a cell phone. Unlike the U.S., Chilenos don’t purchase monthly plans; instead, they usually “recharge” (deposit money into) their SIM accounts as needed.
Oh, I almost forgot! Monica and Sergio have a dog named Liza. She is adorable and likes me because I pet her a lot :)
Monica and Sergio both love to talk, and they have some really interesting stories to share. Communication isn’t really a problem since I have a good understanding of Spanish. However, Chileans have a reputation for speaking very fast and dropping syllables, so at times I have to ask them to repeat something. Both of them said that this is very normal and that it’ll take me some time to grow accustomed to their speech. According to Sergio, even Latin Americans have trouble understanding one another. He said that he and Monica once took a trip to Panama and neither they nor the panameños could understand what the other person was saying. That made me feel (a little) less of a foreigner haha.
The Intensive Language Program (ILP) Orientation was this morning. I walked from my apartment to the school (we’re taking our Spanish courses at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, PUC for short, a private university in Santiago and one of the host universities for the EAP program (the other is La universidad de Chile, La Chile for short, a public university)). It was about a 30-minute walk, which sounds long but was really fun. I walked mostly through residential areas so it wasn’t congested or noisy; very green and charming. So far, and this is a bit of a digression, the parts of Santiago I’ve seen remind me of India and New Zealand (totally random, I know!)–it’s as if both places have kind of combined to form an offspring imbued with qualities of both the parents. It’s weird. Really weird.
Anyway, once at PUC, we met with the directors of EAP-Chile and they gave us our ILP schedule. We also had a chance to meet with some of the teachers who will be leading the Spanish courses in the ILP. What was the most exciting for me, however, was meeting our monitores, Chilean students that attend either PUC or La Chile and who will be our mentors for the rest of the semester. Their purpose is to show us around Santiago, take us where local students and people our age hang out, help us familiarize ourselves with Chilean culture, answer any of our questions about anything, and of course, help us practice our Spanish. Apparently, the Chile Immersion is the only EAP program that has this “buddy system” with students at local universities. I think it’s a great idea and hope it becomes a part of other programs.
I did so much walking after our orientation this morning! A group of us wanted to explore more of the city (it’s so big!), so we decided to walk towards Providencia, another neighborhood. It was much farther than I had expected, but we were a large group and there was plenty of conversation to be had, so it didn’t feel like much (until now; my feet are considering mutiny). Even though my homestay has just started and I’m excited about this month, the walk around Providencia and then around Los Condes in the evening has made me look forward to being in an apartment–I saw a lot of nice places to live that were close to some cute cafes and restaurants and other fun places to hang out.
Speaking of which, the food here has been an interesting experience so far. I say interesting in a good way! I was told by former students that Chilean food tends to be very bland, so I came prepared (exhibit A: my Tapatío post from a few days ago). From what I’ve eaten so far, it’s true: the food is pretty bland. Yesterday before dinner Monica asked me whether I liked spices in my food so I told her that I’m used to eating very very very spicy things. We were standing in her kitchen and she reached into a cupboard and pulled out a small bottle–it kind of looked like the glass Gerber food containers–filled halfway with brown-colored flakes. “This,” she said, “is called merquén. It’s a spice made from dried and smoked red chilies.” Merquén is produced by the Mapuche, one of Chile’s oldest indigenous peoples. Monica warned me just to use a pinch since es muy picante. After pouring about a tablespoon in my soup, I realized that although it’s made from chilies, merquén is used more for the smokey flavor it gives food than its spiciness. “We’ve had this bottle for more than a year,” continued Monica solemnly, “but we’ve only finished half of it.” I told her that if I were to take the same bottle home with me, it’d be over in a day. She laughed, “Oh yes, you’re Indian.”
Speaking with Monica and Sergio has helped me pick up some chilenismos (Chilean slang). Yesterday evening during onces (tea time), Sergio took me through the Sparknotes version of the Chilean vocabulary. “We have our own names for things, different than other South American countries. Let’s play a game: I’ll point to an object and you tell me how you would say it in Spanish; then I’ll give you the Chilean word for it.” After about 20 rounds of this I wanted to burn my Spanish-English dictionary and spread its ashes all over Santiago. But few words/phrases have become my favorites (what can I say? They’re catchy!):
- ¿Cachai? = You know? You understand?
- Po’ = A shortened version of “pues” (well–as in “well, you know how it goes…)
- Guagua = Baby
- Carrete = Party
Currently, I’m planning a 10-day trip to northern Chile. It’s still about a month away, but since we’re in a group of seven we want to make sure we have everything ready to go. Our La Chile orientation is on July 26th and classes start on August 7, so that gives us at least 10 days to go and come back. We decided to go to northern Chile because 1) it’ll be warmer there (it’s winter just now), and 2) you need to devote a lot of time to it because it’s far–about a 28-hour bus ride–and there’s a lot to see. A few of us have Chile guide books (thank you Cindy, Nga, and Yen!) so we’re doing some research over the next week.
Tomorrow I’m off on a 3-day retreat/orientation (I think we’re going to a beach town?), so I should have some exciting things to tell y’all about! And pictures. I promise I’ll have pictures! Take care guys!